This article was originally posted on the site in 2013, but we are posting it again as a StrengthCoach Classic to serve as a refresher and so newer members can see it.
As I've said over and over, I love StrengthCoach.com because it supplies me with a never-ending supply of article ideas. Recently we had a forum discussion, and then an article, on performing rack pulls versus performing hang cleans as a power development exercise. Some coaches supported the idea of using rack pulls as a substitute for hang cleans; however, at Mike Boyle Strength Conditioning, we remain “clean people”. In fact, we teach all our young athletes to Olympic lift. If you are healthy you will Olympic lift in our system.
Former MBSC intern and current Quinnipiac Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Brijesh Patel has become a rack pull advocate. As a result of a forum thread about rack pulls, I asked Brijesh to write an article on why and how he used rack pulls. I knew he had changed his thought process and programming since leaving MBSC and I was as curious as anyone as to the “why”. The result was the recent article Why We Don't Perform the Clean Anymore. I would encourage you to click the link and read the article but, the basic gist of the article was that Brijesh found that his athlete's vertical jumps improved more after doing rack pulls then they did after performing hang cleans.
As I read the article, the first thought that came into my head was that an increase in vertical jump was not the only reason we did hang cleans. In fact, the effect of hang cleans on vertical jump might be the second or even third most important reason we do hang cleans. The number one reason we do hang cleans, or any other Olympic lift for that matter, is for the effect on coordination and athleticism. I don't know if there is anything more beautiful to watch in the weight room than a well performed clean or snatch. My eye and my thirty years of experience tells me that the best athletes are also the best Olympic lifters. You could ask yourself if this is a chicken and egg scenario? Are better athletes better Olympic lifters, or do Olympic lifts make you a better athlete? I will admit to being unsure. When I am unsure, I stay the course. I think Olympic lifting enhances athleticism. In fact, in a recent Body By Boyle Online Mastermind call (http://www.bodybyboyleonline.com), I compared Olympic lifting to tumbling in relation to Olympic lifting developing athletic ability. I love that an athlete has to perform a jump (the lift) and then navigate a moving object to create the receiving position.
As I mentioned above, good athletes and good Olympic lifting seem to go together. However, the number two reason we Olympic lift is for the development of eccentric strength. Pulling a weight is one thing. Actually catching and decelerating that same weight is another. Teaching an athlete to produce a powerful concentric contraction and to then catch and decelerate a moving object might be the most difficult and beneficial skill that one can do in the weight room. It also might be the best injury prevention work you can do. Learning to not only produce force but to absorb force and decelerate load is a critical skill in contact sports.
I happen to think there is tremendous injury prevention value in the eccentric strength developed in the catch portion of the Olympic lifts. In sport, injuries often come while absorbing contact, not while delivering a blow. This eccentric component is not present in pulls. I think there are particular injury prevention benefits to the muscles around the shoulder girdle. I know in my years with BU Hockey shoulder separations and concussions were rare. I think our Olympic lifting played no small part in that.
Fun? Yes, fun. Olympic lifting is fun. I think athletes learn to enjoy the grind of attempting to lift a heavy load. However, I don't think many people would describe a heavy set of squats or deadlifts as fun. Athletes seem to enjoy Olympic lifts much more. In fact, I always felt that Olympic lifts were the great equalizer tin the weight room. In sports like football the smaller more explosive athlete rarely competed with his larger teammates in the bench press and the squatting movements, but in the Olympic lifts, the skilled athlete could often out lift a heavier, larger teammate. This was both rewarding and fun.
I know that many coaches will argue the points above but, there is another thing I know. Very few coaches who have command of the Olympic lifts as a teacher and as a practitioner will argue these points. Brijesh Patel may be first coach I know who is a good teacher of the Olympic lifts who has elected not to use them. It makes me think, but it does not make me change. I will never say never as both myself and our programming have undergone great changes over the years. However, I will say that I don't see Olympic lifts not being a part of our program for the foreseeable future.